One of the best parts of spring is not just the return of wild food, but wild flavors as well. Today’s recipe focuses on one way to showcase those flavors: a compound butter.
Butter works as a beautiful base for flavors because of how easily it picks them up. (As anyone knows who has kept butter in the fridge or freezer for too long!) In fact, flavored butters used to be one method for incorporating flavors into pastries.
There are many different wild flavor options, but this recipe keeps it simple with field garlic (Allium vineale) and sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella). In previous years I tried preserving the flavors of field garlic in white wine vinegar, but I never ended up using the vinegar in cooking, so it basically was a waste of time and resources. And sheep sorrel, well, it never seems to be sufficiently prominent in my yard to play a main character in a vegetable dish.
Ah, but flavored butter though. THAT I use, and proves a perfect way to showcase both field garlic and sheep sorrel.
Obligatory warnings because wild food is “scary”. Make 100% sure of your identifications before harvesting. Harvest only from locations safe from pesticides (if there is any such place left in the world) and toxic industrial chemicals, road runoff, heavy metals, etc. Also, sheep sorrel contains oxalates, which when consumed in high amounts can contribute to kidney stones. (For the record, spinach, rhubarb and berries are also high in oxalates, but you don’t see disclaimers about them in the grocery stores!)
Field garlic is especially easy to spot among this grass this time of year as it towers above its companions.
Many foragers use the field garlic greens the same way as chives, but personally I find them a bit tough. Field garlic greens walk a fine line between “too small to bother” and “too large and tough to bother.” I focus on the whites bulbs instead. Although they tend to be encased in dirt or mud, so make sure to clean them thoroughly!
Sheep sorrel was slightly harder to find in my yard. Like many invasive “weeds”, it loves disturbed soil where it can get entrenched ahead of other plants. I finally located a nice patch lurking on a steep slope under my creeping thyme (which is also excellent in compound butter, FYI).
Sheep sorrel gets its name from the older leaves, which have two lobes at the base making the leaf appear to have a sheep’s face shape. You can (vaguely) see the resemblance in a few of these specimens!
The sheep sorrel imparts a bright, lemony flavor to the butter, while the field garlic tastes like, well, garlic. Because they are being used as a seasoning, rather than a vegetable, you do not need very much of either plant to make this recipe.
Once you have a compound butter, how do you use it? My personal absolute favorite is slathering a whole chicken before roasting. Rubbing the butter under the skin (while texturally unpleasant) crisps the skin beautifully and leaves an even coating of the seasonings everywhere. The recipe below uses a half pound of butter (two sticks), and I use the whole amount on a roasted chicken of about 5 – 6 lbs.
Other uses for compound butter:
- Roasted potatoes
- Adding a dollop to top mashed potatoes
- Spreading on toast
- Dressing fresh steamed vegetables
Flavors of Spring Compound Butter
- 1/2 lb butter, room temperature
- 1/2 Tbs field garlic, minced
- 1/2 oz sheep sorrel, minced (or more, to taste)
- 1/4 tsp salt
Mix the ingredients in a large bowl with a wooden spoon. Using a food processor is also an option, but the butter can separate if it becomes overprocessed. Chill for at least an hour before using to allow the flavors to get to know one another. Store in refrigerator, wrapped in parchment paper in a glass container to prevent other “fridge flavors” from intruding.
Does anyone actually enjoy / use the “Print Recipe” option on this blog? Is it worth the effort I put into making sure it printing is an option? Just curious…